In celebration of Irish Heritage Month, here are some interesting facts about Irish ancestry in America.
Irish American Population Statistics
- There are 34.5 million people who claim Irish ancestry in America
- Approximately 11% of the total United States population is Irish American
- There are over 7 times more people of Irish descent in the United States than the entire population of Ireland
History of Irish Immigration to America
There were 2 major waves of Irish immigration to America.
- The first immigration period was in the Colonial era of the 18th century. These people set sail from the northern provinces of Ireland looking for new lives as American pioneers. The migration consisted of approximately 250,000 Scots-Irish who were predominately Protestant. The major ports of entry for these incoming Irish immigrants were in New York and Philadelphia.
- The second wave of immigration was between 1846 and 1900. During this period approximately 2,873,000 people fled to America from the southern provinces of Ireland. This was primarily due to the Great Irish Potato Famine, which caused poverty and starvation throughout Ireland. These new arrivals were predominately of Catholic denomination. The major American ports of entry were in New York and Boston. The Irish also arrived on trains and ships from Canada, which was then called British North America.
Origins of the Saying “Luck of the Irish”
During the 1848-1855 California Gold Rush many Irish immigrants headed out West to mine silver & gold. Many Americans said the immigrants’ mining success was due to luck, not skill—hence the saying “Luck of the Irish.”
Common Irish Surnames
Here is a list of the top 10 most common Irish last names and their meanings:
- Murphy – Sea Battlers
- Kelly – Bright-headed Ones
- O’Sullivan – Hawkeyed Ones
- Walsh – Welshmen
- O’Brien – Noblemen
- Byrne – Ravens
- Ryan – Little Kings
- O’Connor – Patrons of Warriors
- O’Neill - From a Champion, Niall of the Nine Hostages
- O’Reilly – Outgoing People, Descendants of Reilly
Percentage of Irish Americans by State
The Northeastern United States has the highest concentration of Irish Americans. The following 9 states all have more than 15% Irish ancestry in their total populations. The states are listed in descending order from highest to lowest total Irish population percentages. Massachusetts has the highest percentage in the United States with 22.5% of its residents claiming Irish ancestry.
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
The following 9 U.S. states also have high Irish American populations of 12-14%. Montana has the highest in this range with 14.8% of its population claiming Irish ancestry.
- New York
11% to 11.9% of the residents in the following 7 states claim Irish ancestry.
- West Virginia
The remaining states have less than 11% Irish ancestry in their total populations.
Famous Americans Who Are a Wee Bit Irish
From presidents to outlaws, there have been many famous Irish Americans throughout U.S. history. Here are a few of them:
- John F. Kennedy a.k.a. JFK: 35th President of the United States
- Henry Ford: Founder of Ford Motor Company
- Barack Obama: 44th President of the United States
- William Henry McCarty Jr. a.k.a. Billy the Kid: Outlaw
- Judy Garland: Actress & Singer
- Bill O’Reilly: TV Host & Political Commentator
- Conan O’Brien: TV Host & Comedian
- Grace Kelly: Actress & Princess of Monaco
- Walter Elias Disney a.k.a. Walt Disney: Film Producer & Co-founder of the Walt Disney Company
- Danica Patrick: NASCAR Driver
- Eddie Murphy: Actor & Comedian
- Mel Gibson: Actor & Film Producer
Top Irish Genealogy Records
The top genealogy records to trace your Irish roots are:
- Ship Passenger Lists
- Birth Records
- Marriage Records
- U.S. Census Records
- Ireland Civil Registration Records
- Church Records
- Military Records
Did You Know?
Civil registration in Ireland didn’t begin until 1864, although some non-Catholic marriages were recorded as early as 1845. Fortunately for genealogists, Irish American newspapers routinely published the news of Irish births, marriages and deaths for more than half a century before Ireland started recording them.
Got a little Irish in you? Discover your Irish American ancestry at http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ethnic/irish_american/
Follow GenealogyBank on social media with hashtag #IrishHeritage for more Irish American genealogy facts throughout Irish Heritage Month.